The unusual Mr Pip delights

A review by Brenda Daniels

Mr Pip is the story of a young girl, Matilda (Xzannjah Matsi), who grows up on the island of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. In this tropical “paradise” Matilda’s village experiences the realities of (true life) war, sparked by copper mining activities in the area. While the young girl’s father has left for the greener pastures of Australia, Matilda and her mother, the local Christian preacher, remain behind with other residents.

The only white man left on the island, Mr Watts (Hugh Laurie), is persuaded to be a stand-in teacher. Not trained in the profession, Mr Watts teaches from the one thing he seems to know best – the book Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Pip, the main character in the novel, really captures the imagination of Matilda and his story becomes hers in Mr Pip.

Just as Pip’s name and his search for identity is crucial to the novel, so Matilda grapples with her own identity and where she truly belongs. This is all played out against a military backdrop and incorporates an interplay of opposing elements such as black and white, ignorance and education, European and local, Christianity and traditional beliefs.

The action lapses into scenes in which Matilda imagines herself in Pip’s world. These are strange, fantastical parts to the film, which may go misunderstood by viewers who are not familiar with Great Expectations.

Mr Pip is an unusual, ambitious interweaving of three different stories – Pip’s, Matilda’s, and Bougainville’s. Enthusiasts of Great Expectations will appreciate the fervour with which Dickens’s work is presented. I really enjoyed it.

Mr Pip opens countrywide in South Africa at Cinema Nouveau on Friday 1 August.

The first chapter as it appeared in All Year Round's weekly journal in 1550.

The first chapter as it appeared in All Year Round’s weekly journal in 1550. Photo: Creative Commons

Hugh Laurie plays Mr Watts in Pr Pip

Hugh Laurie plays Mr Watts in Pr Pip. Photo: Creative Commons

The beauty of a human life portrayed in Fruitvale Station

A review by Brenda Daniels.

Based on actual events, Fruitvale Station is the story of 22 year old Oscar Grant. He was shot in the back by police during an altercation at the Fruitvale train station, California, in the early hours of 1 January 2009. The killing was captured by other commuters on personal cameras and mobile phones. Protests and a court case ensued with the guilty police officer convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

This film humanly retells what happened but it also provides for the audience a glimpse into the life and person of Oscar Grant III (played by Michael B Jordan). It does this roughly by bracketing two New Year’s Days – one in 2008 and the other in 2009.

In 2008 we see Grant being visited by his mother, Wanda (Octavia Spencer), while he is in prison. In 2009, or rather New Year’s Eve 2008, we see Oscar as a free man talking to his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), who is making New Year’s Resolutions.

The conversations and events that take place on these two days serve to paint a picture of the multi-layered human being that Grant was. A man with a criminal past, infidelity and unreliability – yes. But also a man with a cherished four year old daughter, a man who loved and relied on his mother, and a human being with warmth and thoughtfulness.

The importance of this film, I believe, doesn’t lie in the dramatisation of the real events. Its value lies in the telling of the story from the point of view of a young black man. From Grant, to his family, colleagues and friends, to even a flash of talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, on TV, the main characters in this film are black. White people appear only on the periphery; even the police officers who appear on the station platform at the end seem faceless and vague looking.

While the emphasis on black to the exclusion of white in Fruitvale Station is obvious I don’t believe this film is about race. It’s simply about showing that Oscar Grant, like many others before and after him, wasn’t just a name in a newspaper report. He was a much-loved, and mourned, human being. His life, as well as his death, should not be forgotten.

Fruitvale Station is currently showing at Cinema Nouveau cinemas in South Africa.

Michael B Jordan plays the title role as Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station

Michael B Jordan plays the title role as Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station (Source: Creative Commons) 

War Horse Breathes to Life on Stage

A review by Brenda Daniels

The West End Production of War Horse, filmed and broadcast by National Theatre Live, will be screened at Cinema Nouveau in South Africa this month. The show is based on the book by Michael Morpurgo and set during World War I making the show’s release this year a particularly meaningful one as 2014 marks the war’s centenary.

War Horse is the touching story of Albert and his horse Joey. Raised by Albert and trained to plough on the family farm in Devon, Joey is sold into the British army and sent to France. Too late to stop the sale, heartbroken Joey joins the war in the faint hope of tracking down his beloved horse.

Brave Joey shows spirit and strength as he endures the hardships of fighting, as well as compassion to a fellow horse and a number of kind humans who come across his path. Joey even changes hands across enemy lines joining the war effort on the side of the Germans.

The story conveys a strong message of reconciliation, always featuring the beautiful horse as its heart.

What is remarkable about this multi-award-winning production is the amazingly realistic, life-size horse puppets. Manned by three people at a time, the puppeteers do a brilliant job of bringing their horse “shells” to life. Whinnying, neighing, snorting, stamping, galloping, rearing, tail swishing – everything a horse does these puppeteers do. And although the men and women handling the puppets are visible to the audience, it’s the horse you focus on; the humans do not detract from the story at all.

There is something else noteworthy: this stage production was done in association with the South African-based, award-winning Handspring Puppet Company.

If you think a stage show couldn’t possibly be as stirring or visually exciting as the film which is also based on the book, think again. The theatre methods used are so clever. Scenery splashed up on a “torn” screen to represent a sketch book, “pole” theatre (actors holding poles to define areas), uniquely choreographed movements and a revolving stage all work together to create an absorbing entertainment experience.

Although quite lengthy (two hours and 50 minutes including an intermission during which an interesting interview takes place) I urge theatre goers to watch this wonderful production.

War Horse releases at Cinema Nouveau in South Africa on 12 April for eight screenings only – 12, 16, 17, 19, 23 and 24 April at 7.30pm and on 13 and 20 April at 2.30pm in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town, and at Ster-Kinekor Blue Route Mall. The National Theatre Livescreening of War Horse will also mark the first theatre production to be broadcast in South Africa in Sony 4K, following the recent digital technology projection upgrade at all the Cinema Nouveau and Ster-Kinekor sites.

Two horses in the filmed stage production of War Horse (Source: Ster Kinekor)

Two horses in the filmed stage production of War Horse (Source: Ster Kinekor)

The life of Pompeii is preserved in Pompeii Live from the British Museum

A review by Brenda Daniels

Pompeii Live from the British Museum is the filmed version of an exhibition set in the British Museum. The exhibition is titled Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum and displays fascinating archaeological pieces unearthed from these two ancient Italian towns. The exhibition is “live” in the sense that a number of experts are interviewed at the museum where they explain the various exhibits.

Pompeii Live from the British Museum is not to be confused with the recently released Pompeii – a film currently on circuit in South African Ster Kinekor classic theatres.

So, just how thrilling could a film based on an exhibition be, you ask. Well, I think the subject of the exhibition is the draw card here. Pompeii is famous. In AD79 Mount Vesuvius erupted in spectacular fashion, engulfing this Roman-Italian town in 300 degree Celcius larva. The town was completely buried and partly uncovered only in modern times. Much of what was uncovered was recognisable and has therefore given twenty-first century citizens a glimpse into what life was like in that part of the Roman empire some 2000 years ago.

What the filmed exhibition does is breathe life into the archaeological items on display. So, real life – and people – in Roman times begin to emerge with the explanation of pieces of jewellery, cooking equipment, an intact loaf of bread, wall murals, street  signs and rooms in houses and public houses.

Herculaneum, a nearby but less well-known town, was also devastated by the volcano. Items shown from this town include wooden furniture turned to charcoal by the unimaginable heat.

My own interest in Pompeii began years ago when I read a historical fiction account of the event. I was amazed at how advanced a culture the Roman’s was. And then, in 2012 I visited Pompeii itself and saw firsthand a Roman road, complete with wagon wheel ruts, a brothel, a Roman baths and of course human bodies “frozen” at the moment of death.

Pompeii Live from the British Museum makes a very important point. The archaeological sites at Pompeii and Herculaneum are in danger of not being preserved. The experts in the documentary all agree on one thing: preserve what we have before digging for more.

I hope this film creates an awareness that will go some way to helping preserve this amazing piece of history. Of life.

The documentary releases in HD at the four digital Cinema Nouveau theatres in South Africa – Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg, Brooklyn Mall in Pretoria, Gateway in Durban and V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. The exhibition will be screened for four shows only: 22, 26 and 27 March at 7.30pm and 23 March at 2.30pm. The film runs for one and a half hours.

 

Brenda Daniels outside what was then the ancient Roman fast food take away, just outside the theatre. (Photo: Roxanne Daniels)

Brenda Daniels outside what was then the ancient Roman fast food take away, just outside the theatre. (Photo: Roxanne Daniels)

One of the main streets of Pompeii,wagon wheel tracks are visible. The stepping stones were for pedestrians to use in order to avoid stepping into the sewage which ran down the road.  (Photo: Roxanne Daniels)
One of the main streets of Pompeii,wagon wheel tracks are visible. The stepping stones were for pedestrians to use in order to avoid stepping into the sewage which ran down the road. (Photo: Roxanne Daniels)

 

Lead up to the award ceremony: Cinema Nouveau Announces Pre-Release Screenings of Three Multi-Nominated Oscar Contenders

Each of the three pre-release titles, August: Osage County, Nebraska and Philomena, will have one screening each at 8pm on 24, 26 and 27 February respectively, at the four Cinema Nouveau theatres at Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg, Brooklyn Mall in Pretoria, Gateway in Durban and the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Bookings are now open for these three special pre-Oscar screenings.

The talented Meryl Streep, who is no stranger to the Best Actress category, is once again nominated in this category for her role in August: Osage County, which will be pre-released at the four Cinema Nouveau theatres on Monday, 24 February at 8pm. Another big Hollywood name, Julia Roberts, shares the screen with her in this film and is up for Best Supporting Actress.

On Wednesday, 26 February at 8pm, Cinema Nouveau audiences are transported to another American state with the pre-release of Nebraska. With an impressive six Oscar nominations, for Best Picture, Best Actor – Bruce Dern, Best Supporting Actress – June Squibb, Cinematography, Best Director – Alexander Payne, and Original Screenplay, this black-and-white masterpiece explores another complex family relationship.

With four Oscar nominations – Best Picture, Best Actress – Judi Dench, Best Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay – Philomena plays on the Cinema Nouveau circuit at 8pm on Thursday, 27 February. It releases nationally on 28 March.

When former journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is dismissed from the Labour Party in disgrace, he is at a loss as to what to do. All that changes when a young Irish woman approaches him about a story of her mother, Philomena (Judi Dench), who had her son taken away when she was a teenage inmate of a Catholic convent. Martin arranges a magazine assignment about Philomena’s search for her son that eventually leads to America. Along the way, Martin and Philomena discover as much about each other as about her son’s fate, as their basic beliefs are challenged.

Cinema Nouveau audiences can watch these films and make their predictions before the winner of “Best Picture is announced during the early hours of 3 March.

The full list of nominees vying for this prestigious award are: Gravity; Captain Phillips; American Hustle; Dallas Buyers Club; Her; Nebraska; Philomena; 12 Years a Slave; and The Wolf of Wall Street.

For more information and to make a booking, visit www.sterkinekor.com or www.cinemanouveau.co.za. Call Ticketline on 082 16789.

The 2009 Academy Awards (Source: Creative Commons)

The 2009 Academy Awards (Source: Creative Commons)

The 31st Academy Awards (Source: Creative Commons)

The 31st Academy Awards (Source: Creative Commons)

Saving Mr Banks deeper than a remake of Mary Poppins

Review by Brenda Daniels

I rushed off to the preview of this film thinking it was a remake of Mary Poppins, an alternative take on this well-loved tale, seen from the viewpoint of Mr Banks, the father character in the original story. Well, it was that and it wasn’t.

On the surface, Saving Mr Banks is the story of how Walt Disney eventually obtained the rights during the 1960s to make P L Travers’ book, Mary Poppins, into the Disney musical starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Emma Thomson stars as the crusty 60-odd year old Pamela Travers alongside Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.

Travers proves to be a very difficult-to-please woman, and fights with the scriptwriting team at every turn, declaring outright that the film would NOT be a musical nor would there be any animation. Baffled by her demeanour, Disney and his team persist, treating Travers with kindness despite her rancour.

Disney, who had longed to make the film for 20 years, begins to see past the author’s outward resistance to what she really holds dear – the memories of her childhood, and in particular her relationship with her father (finely portrayed by Colin Farrell). And it is this story, woven into the fabric of the book and eventually the Disney film, which forms the underlying one of Saving Mr Banks.

The original Mary Poppins story remains unchanged. Seeing Saving Mr Banks won’t alter that. But attributing elements of the book, and the eventual screenplay to the author’s personal struggle, does give the audience a different view on the story. Saving Mr Banks has depth and sensitivity, is well acted, and gives a plausible explanation for how an author’s personal life can affect her writing.

I loved it.

This British-made film opened at Cinema Nouveau theatres in South Africa on 21 February 2014.

Saving Mr Banks event at Walt Disney studios display picture. Julie Andrews,  Walt Disney and Pamela Travers. (Source: Creative Commons)

Saving Mr Banks event at Walt Disney studios display picture. Julie Andrews, Walt Disney and Pamela Travers. (Source: Creative Commons)

HER – will not appeal to everyone

A review by Brenda Daniels

Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of Scarlett Johanson, is a Cinema Nouveau film which opens on Valentine’s Day. Billed as a romance, Her is the story of how writer, Theodore Twombly (Phoenix), recovers from the loss of a previous relationship by meeting someone else. The someone else turns out to be Samantha (Johanson), a, wait for it, OS (computer operating system).

Theodore’s OS is an intelligent programme that learns as she goes along and forms a close relationship with Theodore, talking to him through an earpiece, initiating calls and even performing some heavy breathing during intimate moments.

Theodore’s few friends don’t find it strange that he’s dating an OS – partly because many of them are too. Set in a futuristic Los Angeles, people are seen walking the streets and corridors with microphones in their ears talking animatedly with disembodied “people”, not unlike they do today. And this is where I think director, Spike Jonze, means us to see the absurdity of their (and our) disconnected lives. Lives in which we seem to bond more over devices than we do face to face. Lives in which a computer, not a person, is able to meet our need for friendship and worth and help us in turn to negotiate the world.

Although Her’s premise is an interesting one, the action drags. I found the characters’ constant self-absorption and the lack of humour in this two-hour movie tiresome after a while. An interesting idea, but boring in parts, Her will not appeal to everyone.

Her releases at Cinema Nouveau Theatres on 14 February.

Scarlett Johansson, a digital painting by Marco nl

Scarlett Johansson, a digital painting by Marco nl (source: Creative Commons)

Gravity and Captain Phillips to be re-released

For those who missed Gravity or Captain Phillips on the big screen here’s some good news from Ster-Kinekor:

With the film awards season in full swing, the Oscar nominations announced and the potential winners being widely debated, Ster-Kinekor and Cinema Nouveau are giving movie lovers another chance to catch some of the multi-Oscar nominated titles that were released towards the end of last year.

Both Gravity and Captain Phillips are being re-released to give audiences an immersive cinema experience to appreciate fully the emptiness of space and the vastness of the ocean. Both films are being re-released on Friday, 31 January at select Ster-Kinekor and Cinema Nouveau cinemas nationally.

Gravity is being released in 3D at Ster-Kinekor Sandton City in Johannesburg and Cavendish Square in Cape Town, while Captain Phillips will be re-released at Cinema Nouveau theatres in Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg, Gateway in Durban and the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

Bookings will open today Friday 24 January.

For more information and to make a booking, visit www.sterkinekor.com or call Ticketline on 082 16789.

Captain Phillips

 

Gravity's leading lady, Sandra Bullock.    (Source: Creative Commons)

Gravity’s leading lady, Sandra Bullock. (Source: Creative Commons)